UNICEF condemns sexual violence in Hamas attacks
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND (AFP) - The head of the United Nations children's agency condemned on Wednesday acts of sexual violence committed against women during Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel -- a condemnation that Israel deemed insufficient.
Anger over the accusations of rape and other sexual violence has grown in recent days, and US President Joe Biden on Tuesday called on governments and international organisations to "forcefully condemn the sexual violence of Hamas terrorists without equivocation".
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly accused the Palestinian militant group of such acts, said on Tuesday that in a meeting with hostages released by Hamas he had heard "about cases of sexual abuse and cruel rapes".
In a post Wednesday on X (formerly Twitter), UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell called the accounts of sexual violence "horrific".
"Survivors must be heard, supported, and provided with care," she added.
"Allegations must be fully investigated. We condemn gender-based violence and all forms of violence against women and girls."
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Lior Haiat, however, told AFP the statement was too little, too late, decrying "that it took UNICEF almost two months to say something about the Israeli victims... (and) only after an international campaign and pressure".
"The fact that she (Russell) doesn't mention the Hamas terror organisation is another way of turning a blind eye on the atrocities that Hamas did," he added, saying that "by not mentioning Hamas she is legitimising their activities".
Israel declared war on Hamas after the militant group's October 7 attacks that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli authorities, and saw around 240 hostages taken.
The latest toll from the Hamas government's media office said 16,248 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, had been killed since the start of Israel's ground and air campaign.
Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy said during a briefing on Wednesday that it was "unforgivable that some still choose to deny, downplay or deflect" the sexual crimes committed by Hamas.